“For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 17:38)
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 4)
This year my son turned four and he’s really starting to get excited about Christmas. He’s also beginning to understand many of the traditions, myths and stories. My wife and I decided early on that we would tell our kids the truth about Santa Claus, presents, reindeer and how all those things were “fun to pretend,” but that they were not the real reason for the season. We have stressed that Christmas is about worshipping Jesus and celebrating His birth. We did this because we didn’t want our kids coming back to us when they got older saying, “Why did you lie to us and how can we trust you about the things you taught us about Jesus?”
My explanation to my son went like this: “Santa was a real, historical person who loved God. He was kind and generous. His real name was Nicholas and he did give gifts to people in need. But, he died along time ago and Christmas is not really about him, it’s about God becoming a baby to save us. God gave us the most precious gift when He sent Jesus to this earth.” Daniel nodded and said, “Yeah. Jesus. He died on the cross.” Out of the mouths of babes!
Actually, the real story about Nicholas is quite intriguing and important to church history. Nicholas was born sometime around 280 AD in what is modern-day Turkey to a wealthy Christian couple. When his parents died during a plague, nine-year-old Nick was left with an incredible sum of money. When he became an adult, Nick donated much of his resources to the feed the poor and take care of the needy in his hometown.
Nicholas is most notably remembered for helping the family of a nobleman in Patara who had gone bankrupt. Ruthless creditors not only took the nobleman’s property, but also threatened to take his three beautiful daughters as well. The father’s only hope was to marry off his daughters before the creditors could take them, thereby saving them from a life of slavery and prostitution. Unfortunately, he did not have money for the girls’ dowries, which were necessary for them to marry. Nicholas heard of this dilemma and late one night threw a bag of coins in the family’s window to save the daughters. When Nicholas threw the money, a few coins supposedly landed in one of the daughter’s stockings that she had set out by the fireplace to dry. Thus, began the tradition of gifts in stockings.
Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul once visited (Acts 27:5-6). However, to be a Christian during this time was dangerous business. In 303 AD, the Roman emperor, Diocletian, issued a formal edict to destroy all Christian churches, burn the Scriptures and imprison or kill those who preached Christ. The storm of persecution which led to the deaths of hundreds of Christians, eventually reached Myra. Despite threats of imprisonment Bishop Nicholas continued to preach boldly the deity of Jesus. He was soon seized by torturers and confined to prison for several years. Nicholas was beaten and tortured for his faith, but remained strong.
As providence would have it, Constantine eventually took the seat of power over the Roman Empire. Shortly after his ascension to the throne, in 313 AD Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity and issued the Edict of Toleration, officially giving Christianity tolerance throughout the Empire. Constantine ordered the release of those imprisoned for Christ, and so Nicholas was granted his freedom.
Afterward, Nicholas traveled to the Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in 325 AD. The council ended the “Arian heresy,” which demoted Jesus to a “less-than-God” status. During the debates Nicholas became so enraged with Arius for formulating his detestable doctrines that he slapped the heretic in the face!
Nicholas died in 343 AD and was canonized into sainthood by the Catholic Church.
Now I ask you, which version of the story is more exciting—the preacher who was persecuted for his faith or the guy who comes down the chimney bearing gifts? Why don’t Christians tell their kids about the real Nicholas—a man who preached Christ, suffered for his faith, and smacked down heretics—rather than the fairy tale version invented by marketing gurus?
Use the mall Santa as an opportunity to tell children about the godly qualities of the real Nicholas, who dedicated his life to serving others and was an example of Christian character.
1. William J. Federer, There Really Is a Santa Claus (New York: Amerisearch, 2003).
2. Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 81.